In my head, the audio guide to the Galapagos is David Attenborough. He is responsible for awakening my curiosity for this strange and unique place, inspiring our Galapagos adventure. Each time I saw a new creature, I could hear his slow, deliberate voice providing the commentary. Then I’d snap back to the thick Ecuadorian / American accent of our tour guide Christopher, also slow and deliberate, English being his second language.
Before coming here, I actively tried to lower my expectations. Clearly, we weren’t stepping foot into an Attenborough-narrated BBC documentary, with rare species of animal scampering past in quick succession. My husband Steven and I were on a six-day cruise for our honeymoon aboard the Galapagos Sea Star Journey, operated by Latin Trails. Each day we hopped ashore at designated landing points authorized by the national park.
‘Designated landing points’. It sounded a bit too official for my liking. I tried to erase the epic scenes of razor snakes chasing newly hatched marine iguanas across the sand (see video below!) and instead imagined us walking behind hoards of visitors, with all traces of wildlife long scared away.
This could not be further from the truth.
On arrival into Puerto Ayora, the capital of Santa Cruz Island with less than 12,000 inhabitants and the main gateway for visitors, you only have to wander a few meters along the ocean-front main street before almost tripping over the famous marine iguanas basking in the sun on the pavement. Sea lions chased pelicans away at the small bayside fish market, bullying their way into a prime position for any discarded offcuts.
Each day brought new surprises and delights. We started our Galapagos adventure at the Charles Darwin Research Station, where breeding programmes are trying to bring endangered species like the famous Galapagos giant tortoises and rare land iguanas back from the brink of extinction. It was fascinating to learn about the unique evolution in isolation of creatures in the Galapagos.
On Isabela Island, the largest, and yet one of the newest islands in the archipelago, we hiked through lush tropical greenery to the rim of a vast volcanic caldera – peering deep down at the stark, barren lava fields below, shrouded in mist. Sierra Negra volcano last erupted in October 2015 and the surrounding area still bears the scars. The next day we walked along the shoreline of Isabela, exploring crevices in the aerated lava formations, now home to small cacti – the first signs of returning life.
Further along our journey, much to my surprise and slight horror (not a fan of snakes) we actually encountered the slithery star of that viral Planet Earth scene, on the beach where it was actually filmed. It was just one razor snake, lazily basking in the sun rather than chasing down his next meal, but it was such a tangible and unexpected connection with my pre-trip imaginations and expectations of the wonders of the Galapagos.
For me, the highlights of our Galapagos adventure were beneath and near to the waves. The Humbolt currents bring cold nutrient-rich plankton flowing through these islands, evident further up the food chain with the diversity of marine life. On a scuba diving day trip before our cruise, we saw three species of shark, gathered at a feeding station just 10 feet away from us.
Snorkelling with playful sea lions and quickly darting penguins was extraordinary. And watching the unusual amphibious marine iguanas grazing underwater on seaweed was surreal – they can stay underwater for up to an hour.
As a Caribbean girl, there’s no special novelty for me in snorkelling. In fact, being in the chilly Galapagos waters was actually unpleasant at times as I shivered in my all-too-thin 5mm wetsuit. But the encounters with these strange and wonderful creatures, up close in their natural habitat was incredibly special, and something I’ll never forget. The photos just don’t do it justice – sorry.
Our Galapagos adventure really proved to be just as extraordinary as depicted on TV. I just wish David had been there with me to bring to life the commentary running in my head 🙂
And for the top visitor sites to see aboard a Galapagos cruise, check out my blog for Latin Trails.